One of the most common laments of a community newspaper reporter is the feeling that “I’ve covered everything already.”
It can truly feel that way, especially when covering the same community, with the same people holding the same events, year after year.
But it’s hardly ever true. The community does change, and so does the job. And then sometimes, very rarely, your colleagues retire. When that happens, you quickly realize it’s time to learn that old dog’s tricks.
Such was the case for me on Monday, when covering criminal court for the the very first time. Yes, the very first time. I’ve been in this business for almost 15 years and the only time I ever had to enter the court building was to read the court list and leave again.
I never had to cover court because Robert Freeman was there to do it for me. As regular readers of our sister paper, the Chilliwack Progress, will already know, Freeman retired a few weeks ago. What readers may not know is how closely our two papers work together to bring you the news as quickly and precisely as possible.
When it came to covering all things judicial, well, Freeman was my right hand man. And now he’s gone. So, on Monday morning, when hang gliding pilot Jon Orders had to appear in court on new charges relating to the fatal accident on Mt. Woodside last April, someone had to be there.
I had to be there. This is a big story, and everyone would be there. With this news originating in our backyard, I couldn’t miss the follow up.
I was late to the courthouse, just by a few minutes. Rookie mistake. Too late to see Orders sprint from his car to the front doors. But that was okay, I was interested in what would be said about this new charge of criminal negligence causing death.
I searched the board to find the right courtroom, and I made my way in to sit in the gallery. The seats being filled mostly with other reporters, I relaxed a little knowing I was in the right place.
But still no sign of Orders.
I sat through several appearances, and time ticked on. No Orders.
Dustin Moir, in custody for the death of Chelsea Acorn, showed up in a video conference that was apparently sent to the wrong courtroom. That was a bit of a surprise, as I hadn’t noticed his name on the daily court list. I made a mental note to read that list more thoroughly during a break. A few more video conferences came through from prisoners in Kent and Fraser Institutions, mostly just appearances to speak briefly about upcoming court dates.
One case had a tearful woman standing in front of judge explaining that she had no money to return to court the next day. The judge listened intently to her woes. She also guided a young man toward legal aid, and walked him through what steps he needed to take next, in defending himself in an upcoming trial — without a lawyer.
“I get the feeling you are a bit lost in all of this,” she said with concern and compassion.
This was no Judge Judy.
I got the feeling I have been missing out on a key element of reporting the news, all these years. I wanted to call Freeman and tell him all about this discovery, but I thought better of it. He’s probably enjoying the break, napping somewhere.
Then the prisoners starting making an appearance in person. They ranged from intimidating to more so, especially those who decided that sneering at the gallery would be a good way to spend their time in court. While I’m not a fan of the plastics industry, I was immediately thankful for plexiglass and made another mental note: Don’t look directly into the eyes of prisoners.
When it came time for a break, several hours later, I still didn’t have my story. And I was hungry. But how long would the break be? What if I left for a snack and missed the whole thing? My boyfriend came to the rescue with an apple to tide me over, but during the break I chatted with a few other journalists, including CTV’s Julia Foy, who didn’t snicker when I confessed I was green at covering court. In fact, she was downright wonderful, more of a colleague-on-the-fly rather than a competitor. This isn’t the case with all journalists you meet in the field, so I was thankful to spend some time with her as she shared her knowledge.
Eventually we all trotted back into the courtroom, and Orders made his appearance. It was just a routine appearance to push the court date due to the new charge. Nothing earth-shattering. Nothing telling.
Monday’s appearance was just a footnote in a tragic story that will come to light as the case unfolds. In fact, most of what happened in court that day were just turn-of-the-screw appearances to set dates. At least, that what it seemed to my untrained eye.
I left the courthouse that day – four hours later – knowing that for however long I’m in this industry, there will always be something new to cover, new tricks to learn, and fresh stories to write.
I’ll always be a little ‘green’ at something, and that’s what keeps this job interesting.